“NAGPAHUWAY na si DF,” a familiar sobbing voice broke the news while I was about to go to bed. Calling was Rodolfo Jarumahum Jr. I wished it were spoken literally. But it jolted me so hard I realized we had lost a common friend. Still I called Wacky, who confirmed that his dad had crossed the great divide at 8 p.m. on that Monday – 15 days after his triple heart bypass surgery at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa City.
That night, text messages filled my cell phone, all asking whether the sad news about Danny Gumban Fajardo on Facebook was not fake. One particular message came from Josie Abellon: “I had been receiving daily text of Bible verses from him until one day it stopped. ’Yon pala he had gone under the knife.”
Texting Bible verses to friends at dawn everyday was the least he could do to substantiate his faith as Jehovah’s Witness.
To this columnist, the late Danny Fajardo was like a brother. We had spent long years together as serendipitous partners in the journalism profession. But the “beginning” seems like yesterday only.
It was on a forgotten date in 1973. My wife and I – together with our three-month old baby boy – boarded an Iloilo City-bound bus in San Jose, Antique. I recognized a passenger who had been my classmate from grade five to first year college. The former Maria Santillan introduced me to her husband Danny. They were also coddling their first-born baby boy.
It was not until seven years later in 1980 that Danny and I crossed path for the second time. By then, he had gone into business as owner of an insurance agency and operator of a fleet of buses – DG Fajardo Lines – plying the San Jose-Kalibo route. I was then a newspaperman and magazine publisher in Manila. On learning that he was at the Aloha Hotel, I paid him a visit with a proposal. Without much ado, he signed up and immediately paid for a one-page advertisement. Never did it cross my mind that I would work for him.
In the first week of April, I received a telegram from Mary, asking me to edit her husband’s weekly newspaper in Iloilo. I thought, why not? I had already separated from my wife and was bored of vehicular traffic and air pollution in Manila.
When I arrived at Panay News’ office at Ong Bun Building on Ledesma Street, the first issue had come out – edited by Jerry Taclino who, like Danny, belonged to a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
There was a time, Danny recalled to me, when Jerry came to his insurance office holding a copy of a local tabloid. That was how Danny got hooked into launching his own newspaper.
Douglas Montero, the manager of Diolosa Printing Press, agreed to print the first issue of Panay News, which came out on April 7, 1981.
Jerry acted as editor-in-chief for the first two issues of the paper. Lending a helping hand was the late Victoria Santillan Primero, English professor and elder sister of Mary.
On taking over the editorship, I realized we were facing a tough future. We had few readers and fewer advertisers. The local weekly tabloid that had survived ahead of us could only rely on scarce government ads and court notices.
Danny, however, kept his optimism nourished by his Biblical studies. He prayed for success and claimed Jesus’s promise, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
Danny and Mary knew, however, it would not be a walk in the park; that “God helps those who help themselves.” And that meant working harder for the money. But first, they had to siphon income from the buses to subsidize printing cost.
To make the long story short, the bus business folded up while the paper was overcoming its birth pains. It has metamorphosed from an irregular weekly to a semi-weekly and finally – with its own printing plant – to a regional daily. By the time the Fajardo kids turned adults, scores of editors, reporters and other employees had come and gone in the past 37 years.
For a decade already, the six Fajardo children – nicknamed Ade, Maymay, Wacky, Strawberry, Idol, and Dave – have taken over the management of Panay News, allowing Danny and me the luxury of mornings spent with friends at Café del Prado, where he would snoop for information usable for his Lapsus Calami column.
It was also the place where we would exchange views on serious issues – including death. He was of firm belief that while “the living know that they shall die, the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5); and that death for the righteous is waiting in sleep for the Resurrection.
Goodbye partner Danny. See you beyond the great divide. (firstname.lastname@example.org/PN)